UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Women of no importance? : the Ontario pay equity act and low paid women McCann, Deirdre Maria


The Ontario Pay Equity Act has been hailed by many as the most progressive pay equity legislation thus far enacted in that it is the first proactive scheme to apply to both the public and private sectors. For many women in the Ontario labour force, however, it is entirely irrelevant. In analyzing the Act I draw on the recent work of anti-essentialist and postmodern feminist legal theorists who are critical of previous scholarship for excluding the voices of many women by ignoring central aspects of their being - race or ethnicity for example - and focusing exclusively on their gender. Applying these theoretical approaches to a concrete area of law requires an anti-essentialist understanding of human identity and the use of shifting standpoints; the scrutiny of the influence of specific policies, laws and cases on particular groups of women. I analyze the provisions of the Pay Equity Act in relation to those women who are becoming more marginalized in the labour market as a result of global economic restructuring, especially low paid women. In Canada, these changes have translated into the decline of manufacturing industries and growth in the service sector and an increasing dependence on atypical forms of employment, mainly part-time work, temporary positions and homework. These trends combine to produce the 'good jobsfaad jobs scenario': the polarisation of the market into full-time, well paid, unionized occupations covered by labour laws and part time, low-paid jobs in unorganized workforces which are excluded from legislative protection. Most of these contingent workers are women, and First Nations women, disabled women, women of colour and recent immigrant women are disproportionately represented in 'bad jobs.' Placing these women at the centre rather than the margins of the analysis reveals that they are excluded by the Pay Equity Act as a result of the limited coverage of the legislation, the inadequate protection of non-unionized workers, the limited comparisons allowed, the low standards of equity required and the reluctance of the Pay Equity Tribunal to rigorously examine job evaluation schemes. In effect, the legislation functions as part of the legislative deregulation which is providing a 'flexible' labour force for Canadian employers. I conclude that, while feminist legal theorists must remain aware of the commonalities in the experiences of women, it is necessary to remain sensitive to differences in order to determine which groups of women are being marginalized by the processes of economic restructuring and what strategies will be most likely to benefit them.

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